Historical Plaque Properties


James Skelton - Blacksmith - Grand Trunk Railway
197 Douro Street
Stratford, ON

In 1878 John Whaling, a farmer in Ellice Township who had emigrated from England in the 1850s and ended up retiring in Stratford, bought Lots 13, 18, and 19 on Douro Street. By June 1879 he had sold two of the lots (18 and 19) to James Skelton, a blacksmith. The current house was built on these lots in the summer of 1879.

On March 16, 1851 James Skelton was born  in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the seventh of nine children of Joseph Skelton, an immigrant from England, and Johannah Jackman, born in Ireland. When he was about four years old James moved with his family to Walkerton, Bruce County, and by the time he was about nine, after his mother had died and his father had remarried, his family moved to St. Marys. He eventually had seven half-siblings. He learned the trade of blacksmith while in St Marys, and moved to Stratford to work in the Grand Trunk Railway shops when they were moved to Stratford. He worked for the G.T.R. for over 40 years, being listed as a blacksmith, locomotive blacksmith, or machinist. Interestingly, both James’ father and his older brother William were also blacksmiths. James must have done well in his trade, because the house lot was severed and the house enlarged around 1905.


James married Elizabeth Taylor, born August 10, 1851 in Streetsville, Ontario, the second of five children of William Taylor (emigrated from Scotland) and Elizabeth Maynes (emigrated from Ireland). When a child, Elizabeth’s family moved to Downie Township and were among the pioneer farmers of the area. Elizabeth moved to Stratford when she married James.


James and Elizabeth had four children: William James, Minnie Maude, Ethel Nelly May, and Gertrude Elizabeth. William ended up in Texas where he worked as a roundhouse foreman for the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad. Minnie was a teacher, marrying and remaining in Stratford. Ethel remained single and lived with her mother in the family home until her mother’s death, working as an operator for the Bell Telephone Company. Gertrude moved to Cobalt, Ontario with her husband who was a mining engineer, and eventually moved to Toronto.

James died January 19, 1913, apparently while still working at the G.T.R. shops. Elizabeth died July 26, 1940 at the family home at 197 Douro Street. At the time of her death there were three grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Both James and Elizabeth are buried at Avondale Cemetery, along with their daughter Ethel.